Ramblings from Reggie: An open letter to the Illinois Tea Party movement

By Reggie Roberson

After attending the last Rockford Tea Party event Monday, Oct. 25, I have some thoughts I would like to share.

I believe the Tea Party movement has made a tremendous impact across the U.S. in the last year. I also believe it’s time to take it to the next level, especially in Illinois.

The main subject I took out of Mayor Larry Morrissey’s (I) presentation Monday night is that he needs help (I am not in any way associated with the mayor, except as a citizen applauding his efforts—these observations could be attached to any mayor in Illinois). He needs help from the citizens (i.e., Tea Party). I think this is a natural fit for the Tea Party to show up in a huge way at the City of Rockford Rockstat meetings, and, in a bigger picture, down in Springfield, Ill., to help exact change concerning the rules in which the municipalities have to work under.

The Tea Party can use its name and momentum in Illinois to help get the rules changed legislatively in Illinois to help the local branches of government reduce costs. Examples of legislation that needs to be changed in Illinois includes the following:

1. Enacting legislation to go to a two-tier pension system for government employees and teachers—keep the current system for current employees and install a 401K system for all new hires.

2. Enact legislation to allow local municipalities to run their cities and counties in a financially-responsible manner. Arbitrary boards must be local from local citizens.

3. Union contracts can be renegotiated in a financial crisis.

4. State handcuffs be removed concerning the running of local issues.

These are the types of issues the Tea Party can not only support, but actually go to work and make a significant difference.

Core and systematic issues are ingrained into Illinois politics that fly in the face of most citizens in Illinois, including the people who support the Tea Party. If the Tea Party actually collected membership dues ($10) and put a number behind the movement, THEN used that money and clout to hire a state director and a lobbyist ($150k budget), I believe your efforts can make a real change in the state while keeping true to the Tea Party’s values.

The Tea Party has the ability to partner with the mayors and county board chairmen to make a difference while maintaining your core values.

In the past, I was the chairman of the Illinois Petroleum Equipment Contractors Association, and we made an impact on how our industry was regulated and re-wrote the rules we operated under (alongside of the state fire marshal’s office). We introduced legislation co-sponsored by both a Democrat and a Republican, and got some real work done. It was a three-year process, but well worth the work. I’ve done it, and have seen it make a difference.

Our future in Illinois requires hard work and a constant effort to change the rules in this state. I believe the Tea Party is the vehicle to raise the funds and do the hard work to turn this state around. I also believe all this can be done within the framework of the Tea Party values, and this type of effort will grow the Tea Party in terms of support and awareness.

Another thought of mine is that each election cycle, the Tea Party should endorse the candidates they believe in and stay out of the negative dog fights that candidates tend to get into.

In the race between Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers and Aaron Booker for county sheriff, I think the Tea Party’s support of Booker says all that needs to be said without actually being involved in slinging the mud; let the candidates do that. This approach will keep the Tea Party more neutral in case the mud actually sticks and belongs on a particular candidate. At least the Tea Party wasn’t flinging it.

I would like to see the Tea Party come together in a more focused way. Why is there a Rockford Tea Party and a Northern Illinois Tea Party? Strength is in numbers. If you talk to legislators, they will tell you that in the past (the last year is an exception), they never heard from the citizens. I propose a state board as well as a committee in each county in Illinois to endorse local candidates that promote the same values as the Tea Party movement. If there are two overlapping Tea Party groups, what happens if they endorse candidates running against each other? It would happen eventually. That would fracture the Tea Party momentum locally.

I am open to discuss these concepts at any time with the Tea Party. My concern is that the tables are turned on a national level in 2010, then the momentum stops. There is much more work to do after the 2010 elections. It will take years to get rid of entrenched politicians who do not adhere to the Tea Party values.

The big question is how to keep the momentum and how to really make a difference? Imagine 50 Tea Party members showing up for every Rockstat meeting. I guarantee change will start happening.

I have been to a lot of meetings where people have vented and complained about the issues, but at the end of the day, nobody asked, “What we can do about it?” It seems when we get into the “meat” of the problems, it goes to the way the state is run, and then everybody leaves and they are still defeated.

Supporting candidates that have the Tea Party values is a step in the right direction, but it is clearly not enough without changing the rules. Maybe in 10 years, we will have right-thinking legislator, and they will change the rules, but I doubt it, without help. There’s a wide gap between what we believe in and how we get there, and that’s where most Americans—and especially Illinoisans—drop off the caring meter.

Let’s help Mayor Morrissey and all the other mayors in the state of Illinois by being their legislative arm. The Tea Party can utilize the legal staffs around the state to draft the bills they need to make a difference.

I would like to finish by saying I believe in the Tea Party core values and think the time is right to make a difference, and I also think your organization has the roots to be that vehicle. I worry that a great opportunity to exact change may be lost because of organization issues, lack of a central focus and sense of what you can accomplish within each state.

To be honest with all of you, I’m tired of just talking about the issues.

Post-election comments: Now that the election has actually happened, it is clear that more work needs to be done in Illinois. My greatest fear is that there is a collective sigh of relief and that when the economy picks up, everyone will just go back to not caring. There is a lot of work to be undone. The systematic layering of rules, regulations, pension promises, and other items needs to be undone, and it will take many years and many election cycles to reverse the pain. These comments sent to various Tea Party members in the state of Illinois lay out a partial game plan for the next step.

Reggie Roberson can be reached at reggie.robey15@gmail.com.

From the Nov. 10-16, 2010 issue

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